I wish I could bring some of Toronto home. Every step feels like undiscovered ground. Every street is a different adventure. Although I’m excited to leave behind the toilet paper that is as smooth as sand paper and the key to my hotel, which takes five minutes to open a door, it’s the sense of newness and discovery that I want to pack with me.
Unfortunately, Atom Egoyan’s Remember (7/10) is not really something new to be discovered, but it does palpably rework plot points from Christopher Nolan’s Memento with old themes from the Canadian auteur’s past work. Recently, he has lost his way with the ludicrous The Captive and the amateurish Devil’s Knot but, although Remember sometimes verges on camp, it is still a modest return to form for a great director in a bad slump. Dealing with memory, genocide, guilt, family, and even the perpetual cycle of hatred across generations, those familiar with Exotica, Ararat and The Sweet Hereafter will be able to distinguish the elements that made Benjamin August’s screenplay attractive to the director.
Zev (Christopher Plummer) is an elderly holocaust survivor who is demented and forgetful. Because he has no short term memory, every time he awakens he has to mourn the death of his wife. While Zev can’t remember the faces of his grandchildren, he lives in constant fear from the heartache caused by the holocaust. In a haze of memories these feelings remain painfully clear. Guided by a letter and a plan from another Jewish resident in his care home, Zev goes on a trek to murder old Nazis who escaped trial by assuming the roles of dead Holocaust victims. By writing notes on his arms and consulting a letter to remind him of the plan, Zev is able to stay on task as he seeks to avenge his dead family in his old age.
The entire premise is ludicrous but suspension of disbelief is required of most films, so while I was willing to submit to the basic premise, Remember frequently oversteps that boundary as it enters into realms of contrived camp. But a profound final twist and a great lead performance from Plummer manage to make Remember tense if nothing too memorable.
Like Remember, Johnnie To’s Office (7.5/10), reworks many familiar elements into a distinct assemblage of influences. An expressionistic-musical-romance-comedy that also happens to be in 3D, Office is an unabashedly odd mix, especially considering the subject matter – the subprime mortgage crisis viewed from the perspective of a large Hong Kong investing firm. To, who is most famous for directing action films like Drug War, brings a distinctly kinetic and energetic aesthetic to a modest story with relatively simplistic insights.
Office is an absurdest (almost screwball) comedy about the clash between business practices and personal relationships: a self-centered and impersonal environment colliding with selfless and personal love stories. What’s interesting is how the capitalist ideology, which To believes favors profit over all else, launches an ensemble of characters into alliances and romances that shift like they’re playing musical chairs. There is no loyalty, only a personal goal to become richer.
Focusing on one character in particular, Office tracks Xiang Li, a new idealistic recruit, as his eventual rise leads to a moral fall. Office has little dramatic weight, forgettable songs, and useless 3D, but it is also an entertaining film about depressing subject matter, a story that is both predictable and familiar but also endearing and different.
Different and new isn’t always better as Kahlil Joseph’s oddly unsatisfying The Reflektor Tapes (2/10) proves. Combining two of my favorite things, Arcade Fire and cinema, I eagerly anticipated this documentary expecting insights into the band’s process, their inspiration, or maybe even a cinematic expression of what makes their music infectious and powerful. But The Reflektor Tapes, similar to many other recent documentaries like Listen To Me Marlon, Amy, and Montage Of Heck, experiments with documentary form by avoiding talking heads for more impressionistic techniques. Arcade Fire’s concert was one of the most visceral aesthetic experiences of my life, but The Reflektor Tapes does little to capture the band’s emotion or the powerful gusto behind their live shows.
Offering no background on Arcade Fire while doing nothing to coherently follow their Reflektor tour, this documentary has no traditional intentions. With scribblings on images, senseless shifts from color to black and white, pointless changes in aspect ratios, and oddly superimposed images, The Reflektor Tapes is post-modern schlock in all the bad ways the band’s most recent album isn’t. It feels like a high-school experimental film, a montage of incoherent and combating elements. I will forget The Reflektor Tapes but sadly, I can’t leave behind bad films. Regardless of whether the toilet paper is callous here or soft back home, bad movies will always be everywhere.
Tomorrow: Louder Than Bombs, Youth